We all have the good, the bad and the ugly in us

100 year sentences for prisoners are impractical, ignore humanity’s capacity for good and the range of well researched therapies available to change behaviours

Photo Credit:  x1klima

Photo Credit: x1klima

It seems David Cameron is keen to make his name in the history books by making as many controversial reforms to the way Britain is run as possible. Following privatisation of student loans, scrapping of the National Scholarship Scheme and announcements that the government intends to deny non-natives free NHS care, Cameron is now backing proposals of 100-year sentences for serious offenders before the furious lefties have even had a chance to catch their breath.

The proposed change in sentencing regulations for England and Wales comes after a European court ruled last July that such sentences breached the European Convention on Human Rights. The Conservative party, however, want Britain’s Supreme Court to have the final say in cases relating to human rights, rather than the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. According to the BBC, Cameron candidly remarked that “life should mean life… whatever the European Court has said”.

In response to this story, reader Tabris comments on the BBC website: “An eye for an eye really doesn’t work and in all honesty, unless someone is evil beyond measure, I wouldn’t put most criminals past the chance of rehabilitation”. Whilst the majority of this remark seems to be relatively agreeable, the individual uses one phrase which is rather disturbing, “Evil beyond measure”.

So black and white an understanding of human nature is shockingly primitive, and completely undermines all current psychological and medical doctrine. We are not simply passive products of some intrinsic character traits, but instead malleable individuals with fluid identities and brains capable of wondrous plasticity, even at a genetic level. Or, in other words, a baddy really can be reformed.

If the accepted wisdom truly was that people were inherently one way or another, then there would be no rationale for cognitive-behavioural therapies (CBT), and other forms of psychological treatment, which have proved to be enormously successful when used to alleviate numerous conditions addictions and mental illnesses. Such therapies have a wealth of research supporting their implementation in NHS systems, and would not be continued using government funding if they did not consistently prove to be effective.

Human beings have an exceptional potential to adapt their behaviour and cognitive processes as situations and circumstance demand: We are all capable of change. Thus, I challenge the sceptics who insist some individuals are ‘inherently bad’ or incapable of ‘good’. Parenthetically, just as anyone who has transgressed is capable of making amends, every single one of us has the potential to perform those acts that we might call ‘evil’.

On a more pragmatic note, it seems that the repercussions on other inmates and prison staff of implementing such plans haven’t been considered. If one has no hope of ever seeing the light of day outside prison grounds again, then there is nothing to lose. After all, if a prisoner has already been given the ultimate 100-year sentence, which no one would be able to outlive, unless Cameron intends to also introduce the death penalty there is a clear limit to the extent offenders could be punished once condemned to life inside. Having lost their freedom, family and any sense of normality prisoners may well try to re-establish some control over their life by aggressing toward other prisoners or staff in order to gain respect, establish dominance or acquire goods.

All in all, the proposed 100-year sentence seems to be little more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is a way of sentencing a person to death within prison, without actually having to actively instigate their decease. But whether this is this really keeping our hands clean, or simply a more passive form of capital punishment, is dubious. Cameron might as well simply send criminals back up the gallows and spare us the tax-money. After all, if 100-year sentences become common practice for serious offenders, where do we go next? Another commenter on the BBC reports starkly retorts: “For those saying that the current sentencing is not great enough for the families of the victims… Nothing will ever be enough…. It will not return their loved one”.

Who knows, perhaps the spare change would enable Cameron to bring back the National Scholarship Scheme.


  1. 4 Jan ’14 at 9:46 pm

    Serious Fashionista

    Someone’s slipped up, and let a fashion writer have a go at real journalism.

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  2. 4 Jan ’14 at 10:16 pm

    Oops, our mistake

    Next you’ll discover they also let the fashionista study a science degree and edit physics articles for a science magazine…

    It’s a mad world

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  3. Impressive, well-written piece.

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  4. I like your piece very much and appreciate this as a highly intellectual piece counterposed with the ridiculous “Comment on comments” article recently. Just one things:

    “Cameron might as well simply send criminals back up the gallows and spare us the tax-money.”
    I have two things to say about this.
    1. To facilitate proper debate, we really need to get past this constant political straw-man that is deeply ingrained into our current political culture. I think trying to constantly paint the Tories as backward when Cameron is altogether not THAT backward of a thinker doesn’t contribute to debate much. I think with this kind of rhetoric commenters in general should steer away from.
    2. Any form of death penalty these days costs a lot of tax money in appeals etc., I think moreso than prison (I can’t remember where I read that but I did read it somewhere.)

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  5. Thank you very much for your comment Johnny.

    I believe I agree with your first point, we do have a tendency to paint a very black and white picture of many things within the media (sadly that is the nature of journalism and often used because the fact is that people are drawn to read it – people love their controversy – and a more nuanced position is hard to establish well within a word limit).

    Your second point seems a good one also. Personally, I am against the death penalty for any crime but that is founded completely on my moral standpoint, rather than any practical considerations (although they are entirely valid and often as equally important).

    I’m glad you appreciated the article. Frankly, I was nervous commenting on such as I am a complete novice in the political field.

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